Having recently converted to vegan following 23yrs as a vegetarian, I’m very much enjoying my exploration of restaurants that offer fresh and healthy lifestyle choices minus meat, dairy and animal produce. And whilst the majority of restaurants may struggle to cater for such specific dietary requirements as mine, I’ve found that the high end establishments have captured my needs perfectly and The Harvey Nichols OXO Tower Brasserie on London’s South Bank has the most fabulous vegan menu and atmosphere.
Serving all foods from meat, seafood and vegetables alike, The Brasserie perches elegantly on the South Bank of the river Thames in the heart of London. It rightly boasts a state of the art open plan kitchen, intense flavours and global influences which peak your senses and are a feast for the eyes as soon as you step through the door. The suited staff are professional, polite and perfectly attentive with a relaxed, impeccably efficient and welcoming atmosphere. The entirely glass fronted exterior and tranquil terrace compliment the contemporary grey-blue interior to create the perfect balance between nautical and atmospheric dining as you overlook the river and the hubbub of London life below.
Upon arriving for dinner we were shown through to the bar to wait at a bistro table with tub seating and enjoy our drinks whilst our table was prepared and we were asked if we had any special dietary requirements to which I advised I am vegan. I’m a great fan of mojito’s and so I chose the Mojito Especial with Havana Club Especial gold rum muddled with fresh limes, mint, sugar and soda served tall over crushed ice for £12.95 and boy oh boy did it go down well. Really well! It was sweet, smooth, uplifting, refreshing, zingy and beautifully mixed with every sip as flavoursome and delicious as the first. There’s nothing worse than a cocktail separating and being left with hard alcohol at the bottom of the glass that makes you shudder, and as much as I enjoy the effects of alcohol on a summers afternoon, I don’t appreciate hardened drinking. The addition of sugar with Havana Club Especial gold rum really lifted the drink for me and took it to a whole new level, as the pleasure of it usually tasting dry and minty is now shattered by the fantastic sensation of a mixologist.
After a few moments we were shown to our table overlooking the river and the waiter presented our two separate menus as well as a vegetarian and vegan friendly wine list which was a wonderful touch. As we were deciding on what to eat a bread waiter approached with a basket of freshly baked warm bread in a choice of white or wholemeal and a dish of fresh butter. I selected a couple of pieces of crusty wholemeal and asked if they had any dipping oil as I don’t eat butter, to which he pleasantly returned with a bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread was beautifully crusty and warm with a soft and fluffy centre that soaked up the oil and left a glossy film in my mouth. There’s something so homely about freshly baked bread, and he returned after we finished our plates to ask if we’d like some more, which we couldn’t possibly resist!
For my starter I chose the Steamed Asian Buns with tempura king oyster mushroom and miso soy dipping sauce for £8.00 which is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. When I was vegetarian my tastes swayed towards Indian spices and textures, but now as a vegan I’m loving oriental inspired dishes and a fusion of flavours. The steamed Asian buns were like biting into soft and sweet fluffy clouds, similar to a lightly cooked melt in the mouth doughnut, which contrasted eclectically with the crisp fried batter of the tempura king oyster mushroom. The shredded beet and carrot added a fresh and fruity cool juiciness and the miso sauce was out of this world, smooth, thick and creamy. Every bite left my tastebuds dancing and I’m drooling now at the thought of it.
For my main I then had the Vietnamese Pesto Rice Noodles with roasted pumpkin, spring greens, choy sum and cashew nuts for £17.00. A typical vegetarian main in a restaurant always seems to be salad or pasta with a vegan option rarely making the side dishes let alone a main. So having a vegan noodle main was an absolute first for me, and I’ve never tried rice noodles before even as a vegetarian. The dish was beautifully presented and a mixture of hot and cold, sweet and savoury and fruity and light so that every bite was exciting and flavoursome. I squeezed the fresh lime over my rice noodles and wrapped them around my fork which glistened a rainbow of fiery fresh colours. The crisp baked noodles were crunchy and light like rice cakes, with glossy smooth, warm and perfectly soft boiled noodles entwined with freshly raw and firm shredded vegetables. With the crunch of seeds and toasted cashews, bunches of herbs and a pesto dressing I ooh’d and ahh’d my way through every mouthful, licking my lips and never wanting it to end.
Although at first glance a plate of vegetables may not seem like a lot of food, nor filling enough for a generous appetite like mine, the satisfaction of the food was absolutely incredible. Each dish was light, refreshing, uplifting and incredibly moreish, taking my senses into overdrive and leaving me beautifully content without feeling bloated or sickly. It’s the difference between eating a bucket of strawberries which you lose enthusiasm for after the first several when they all taste the same, to dipping them in melted chocolate, seeds and chilli. It isn’t about how large or small your stomach is that satisfies an appetite, but the quality and pleasure gained from eating. If you are content with your food you won’t feel the need to snack after a meal, but if your food wasn’t satisfying enough you’ll head straight for something more afterwards.
Finally the menu offered a vegan dessert of Chocolate Cake with strawberries and strawberry sorbet for £7.50 but after having had several cocktails and three plates of food I literally couldn’t eat another bite! I’m a huge fan of vegan chocolate made from rice milk because it’s so glossy and light and I wish I could have managed just a forkful to know what it was like, but my satisfaction from my previous dishes are testament to how much I enjoyed my meal. The OXO Tower Brasserie is every foodies heaven that you simply have to experience should you find yourself in London.
OXO Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, South Bank
Tel: +44 (0)20 7803 3888